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Sounding the newspaper death knell

Jul 8, 2009

By Shoshana Hebshi 

 
Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
 
By Shoshana Hebshi
 
An old newspaper friend of mine and I recently started a blog. It has been taking a lot of time to build up and create content, but it’s been an interesting process. Not only are we reconnecting through cyberspace at a pace we have not done since we inhabited cubicles five feet apart, but also we are learning from each other about new media and its capabilities.
 
This friend, whom I met during my first post-college job as an editor for a small weekly newspaper, now lives in Las Vegas and works for a website there.
 
Because we both hail from media backgrounds, our interest in the changing media landscape informs much of our content. 
 
After the news of Michael Jackson’s death wreaked havoc on social networking site servers, slowing connections and frustrating users, we decided to post a poll on our blog to track how people received the news of the pop icon’s death.
 
The results were a tell tale sign of the way people get their news in this information age we live in. The majority of respondents heard the news somewhere on the Internet.
 
I wrote in a previous article that it’s not that people are not reading anymore, they are just not reading the newspaper.
 
This is apparent by the declining circulation of papers and mass layoffs in newsrooms around the country. This isn’t just a correction, as the market will do when it inflates too much and needs to adjust. This is a sea of change.
 
I often fear rapid change. It takes me a while to get used to a new idea and accept it. But, I fear the fallout from the decline in newspaper readership.
 
I have an old-fashioned penchant for the printed word, for newsprint and for the belief that good journalism promotes democracy. I grew up in a house where the daily newspaper was picked through every day by every member of the family. I spent my college years learning to be a newspaper reporter. It’s hard for me to see this death knell on the horizon.
 
Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu commented on the decline of newspapers last Sunday, saying: “When a newspaper dies, people lose not just key information about their communities, but a connection with one another; and a common impetus to change things.”
 
Newspaper journalism sets the bar in how news is gathered and presented to the public. Online news sites, bloggers and television and radio stations often just present a regurgitated version of a story that first appeared in a newspaper. Without vibrant newspaper newsrooms producing well-reported, intelligent stories it might not matter at all that we are reading, albeit online.
 
When I first moved to Des Moines three years ago, I walked past the Register’s downtown building. Its rotating door and art-deco façade reminded me of a bygone era that I could only picture from movie scenes: Grumpy men in white starched dress shirts, cigars hanging out of the corner of their mouths, the incessant tap-tapping of the typewriters all around and people yelling across the room about breaking stories. I didn’t get into the newspaper business to become a scotch-sipping crusty reporter; I got into it because of the deeper passion and quest for truth that lay beneath this rough-and-tumble image of the 1950s-era reporter. 
Perhaps the blame lies mainly on the shoulders of the media companies that allowed newspapers to become relics of the paper era in a digital age. But blaming would be beside the point. 
 
As a society we need to support good journalism and allow the same newsroom that existed in a dingy second story of a downtown building in the middle of the country to be carried into the online palaces of minute-to-minute updates.
 
Without this necessary transition we stand to lose a society’s ability to receive and understand all the news that’s fit to print.
 
____________
 
Shoshana Hebshi is a graduate student in journalism at Iowa State University. Read more of her writing at http://shebshi.wordpress.com

 

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